From ONE HIGHLAND NIGHT (copyright 2008, Jennifer R. Clark):
Elspeth lay in her cell, staring up at the dark ceiling, and waited.
She thought of Alec, wondered if he even noticed her absence. They had talked of her need to return to Kilchurn; it would be so easy for him to leave her here to find her own way, alone as always. No MacGregor involvement meant no threat to his clan. It made sense, really. Her only regret was not having the chance to say goodbye.
Paradoxically, she looked forward to the morning, and the earl's return. Somehow she felt he wasn't after her body—only her knowledge, and the power it could bring him. His son, however...
Her eyes snapped open and every muscle tightened in fear when at last she heard the door scrape open. Futilely, she pulled against the ropes binding her wrists. They rubbed the raw patches left by multiple previous attempts, and she subsided.
A dim shape moved toward her through the pitch black room. Ormelie. She curled into as tight a ball as she could manage with her arms tied above her head, and squeezed her eyes shut in imitation of sleep.
A hand touched her arm. She exploded from her coiled position, driving both feet like pistons into the man's midsection. The air left him in an audible rush, and he stumbled back, clutching his abdomen.
"Christ, mo phiseag!" Alec wheezed. "If ye dislike me so, tell me plain. Dinna take it out on me just because I get near!"
Relief flooded her at the sound of the familiar voice. "Oh, God, Alec! I thought you were Ormelie coming back." He had not left her alone, after all. Then she remembered where here was. "What are you doing here?"
Breathing more normally, he returned to her side. "Rescuing you, I suppose. Though it might go faster if ye helped instead of hindered…" His dirk cut through her bonds and she pulled her hands free, rubbing her wrists and sitting up.
Alec knelt on the floor at her feet. He searched her face, concerned. "Lass, did anyone…harm ye? Can ye come wi' me now?"
"Yes. I mean—no, he didn't hurt me. Yes, I can move."
"Good. We dinna have much time. 'Tis dark yet, and best to leave before dawn."
They emerged from her cell and passed an unconscious guard slumped by the door to the bailey. The work of Alec's dirk-pommel, if she had to guess, or the scrolled butt of one of his prized Doune pistols. It was still night, as he had said, but she could see the faint rose glow of dawn beginning to lighten the sky over the East wall.
A shout sounded behind them: the alarm was raised. Here and there around the courtyard, torches flared and soldiers appeared in various states of dress and equipage. Hugh and Ewan emerged from the shadows of the wall and engaged them, drawing attention.
Alec's breath whispered warm in her ear as he gave her hurried instructions to make for the rear retaining wall, then he drew sword and dirk and ran ahead to join the fray. She slipped along the wall of the bailey, keeping to the shadows. At first she ignored the warm spot against her leg as a figment of her imagination. But then the warmth was supplemented by a faint vibration. She stopped and withdrew the meteorite from her pocket by its string, already knowing what she would see. Sure enough, it glowed faintly and emitted a low chiming sound.
One more step, and the crystal brightened. Another wormhole must be forming nearby. If she just walked forward, the portal might open. She could leave certain danger behind, and the heartache that would surely result from her growing feelings for Alec. She could go home.
Home. Home meant safety, the comfort of the familiar. This place, this time were not her own. But home meant loneliness, too. The pain of abandonment.
If the wormhole even returned her there—and that was a very big "if". It might take her to another place and time altogether. Or…nowhere.
She looked to Alec, torn. He fought two soldiers, plaid swinging and sword flashing. Sparks flew as his blade met those of his opponents, clash after clash. It startled her; she'd thought that a special effects gimmick in the movies.
This was no gimmick. The gentleness and humor she loved about him were gone from his face, replaced by a fierce scowl of concentration. He was every inch the Highland warrior. He'd risked himself, his friends, and retribution against his clan to rescue her. In Glasgow, he'd taken her to see Isaac Newton. And before that he'd taken her in when she was lost and alone, found a place for her within his clan. Above all, by coming for her, he'd earned her trust...something she thought to never give another man.
Go or stay? The men fought, the sun rose, and every second wasted brought them closer to certain capture, but still she hesitated.
And then she saw him. Half in shadow, one of Campbell's men slunk toward Alec from behind. His knife gleamed dully in the pale light. Alec remained occupied with the soldiers at his front, new ones come to replace their fallen colleagues.
Going unnoticed was no longer an option. She stepped away from the wall and shouted.
"Alec! Behind you!"
But he did not seem to hear her. The Campbell crept closer.
Choice made, she sprinted into the open, even as the man raised the knife high. Throwing up a blocking arm, she inserted herself between Alec and the blade. But she timed it poorly. Instead of meeting forearm-to-forearm as expected, she felt the knife bite deep into her flesh, a lightning-strike of searing pain. It scraped bone before the attacker yanked away.
She had no time to focus on the pain. A quick left jab to the solar plexus took the attacker's breath. She aimed a vicious kick at his groin, skirts be damned. While he was thus distracted, she reached around and withdrew the small sgian ockle from its sheath beneath a startled Alec's arm.
But her first blows had been effective enough. The Campbell remained doubled over on the ground where she'd kicked out at him, and the direction of Alec's struggle led them farther away by the second.
They fought their way across the courtyard, back-to-back. Alec did most of the work, and she guarded the rear. A rope and grappling hook dangled from the top of the north wall. She watched as Ewan clambered up and dropped out of sight. Before she really knew what was happening, Alec boosted her to the top of the wall and began to climb the rope himself. She closed her eyes and dropped to the ground below.
Hugh, the last of the group, landed with a thud even as she and Alec picked themselves up and headed for one of the two small boats drawn up on the rocks. As he rowed, she saw glowing balls of torchlight gather on the shore, heard the retort of muskets. A ball splashed into the water off the starboard side. Garrons nickered from the trees on the shore.
When they reached the mainland, Alec swung into a saddle in a flair of plaid, then reached down and pulled her up before him. The party rode north along Loch Awe. Toward Glenstrae, and safety.